There are good reasons for the existence of the current system of criminal record checks in England and Wales. 一部の雇用主や組織がボランティアに依存しているのは正しいことです (including the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme) want to find out whether applicants have been convicted of criminal offences. Primarily, this relates to work with people who are vulnerable either because they are children or because they have learning difficulties or disabilities. 明らかに, it is important for society to do everything it can to protect such people.
Measures should, しかしながら, be proportionate. And evidence suggests that there are circumstances when the current system is not. A key area of concern is children, who in some cases will be forced under the present rules to disclose histories of offending, even if non-violent, for the rest of their lives. Another issue is the automatic disclosure of police cautions – which involve making an admission but are not the same as a finding of guilt by a court. 最後に, there is the law forcing people to reveal any prison sentence, however short, for the rest of their lives – bearing in mind that people can be sent to prison for failing to pay fines and that 6,500 people were given sentences of less than a month in 2020.
It is impossible to quantify the overall effect of this system, which was introduced 20 years ago after the murder of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells by a school caretaker, Ian Huntley, who had been reported to the police six times. The most detailed checks carried out by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), a level of scrutiny known as “enhanced”, are used to screen out anyone who it is thought could pose a risk to children or other vulnerable people. These go beyond convictions and cautions and include other police data – such as the reports made about Huntley.
But a huge number of other people, including those who have committed drugs or other offences – sometimes decades ago – are caught in the DBS net. And there are certainly situations in which this is excessive and unfair. New data obtained by the FairChecks campaign, which hopes to persuade the government to change the law, shows that childhood offences were disclosed in more than 11,000 checks last year.
Practically speaking, a system that creates disincentives to people who are trying to turn their lives around should be regarded as problematic – for example, if it means that they can’t find work. Given the overrepresentation of black and minority ethnic boys and young men in the criminal justice system, it makes sense to worry in particular about them. It is wasteful and destructive when people who have broken the law are written off.
This might sound obvious. It is uncontroversial to state that the prison and probation system should include efforts at rehabilitation. Victims of crimes are not obliged to forgive those who have harmed them. But societies as a whole should look for the good in offenders as well as the bad.
The reality of the criminal justice system, しかしながら, fails to live up to this ambition, と high rates of reoffending and former prisoners too often finding it impossible to reintegrate. Criminal record checks are of course not the only factor here. Cuts and failure to invest in prison education and training, and prisoners’ pre-existing difficulties, including mental illness and poverty, are others. But if as a society we believe in second chances and the capacity of people – especially children – to change, then our laws should support that process as far as possible. Ministers should agree to revise the current system. Adjustments could be made without jeopardising the commitment to safeguarding that underpins it.